a harmony of adjustments

Tagore wrote this piece in 1922, at the very first signs that India might emerge from a 400-year period of colonial/capitalist/foreign rule.

meanwhile, he notes that

 The political and commercial adventures carried on by[170] Western races—very often by force and against the interest and wishes of the countries they have dealt with—have created a moral alienation, which is deeply injurious to both parties

Western cultural modes and thought, according to Tagore (and I borrow from elsewhere in his speech here),

[become] an impediment when taken into different surroundings, just as when lungs are given to the whale in the sea.

in the design of his own educational mechanism, Tagore offers a contrasting directive:

in our centre of Indian learning, we must provide for the co-ordinate study of all these different cultures,—the Vedic, the Puranic, the Buddhist, the Jain, the Islamic, the Sikh and the Zoroastrian. The Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan will also have to be added

however, Tagore offers few clues in these essays how these different studies will be “co-ordinated.” although we can infer from Tagore’s general ideas about oneness and unity that these studies will be somehow integrative, we have no idea how different cultures will be related to each other, or contrasted, if at all.

can’t the integrative study of external cultures be, in its own way, colonial? instead of taking your culture and bringing it elsewhere, you absorb the culture of others, thus blurring the line between you and they. not that there aren’t advantages of integrating across cultural lines, especially in a multiethnic state like India, but doesn’t Tagore’s point about lungs and whales still have some bearing?

1 thought on “a harmony of adjustments

  1. Interesting points. Tagore speaks against imposed colonial terms (specifically the British educational systems in our readings and other issues elsewhere), but he carefully does not reject Western civilization outright. In his vision for a world university, perhaps the argument centers more around the slow and selective integration of certain practices versus forced and rigid imperial structures. Sen, towards the end of Tagore and his India, puts it nicely:

    In India, he wrote, ‘circumstances almost compel us to learn English, and this lucky accident has given us the opportunity of access into the richest of all poetical literatures of the world.’ There seems to me much force in Rabindranath’s argument for clearly distinguishing between the injustice of a serious asymmetry of power (colonialism being a prime example of this) and the importance nevertheless of appraising Western culture in an open-minded way, in colonial and post-colonial territories, in order to see what uses could be made of it.

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